LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — What was supposed to be a relaxing weekend in Tennessee for Alexx and Kate Bragg turned into a grueling night of frozen gridlock along one of the country’s busiest interstate highways.
Hundreds of drivers were stuck on I-75 overnight after a massive winter storm dumped more than a foot of snow in south central Kentucky, clogging cars and causing multiple crashes that created a 30-mile stretch of shivering passengers. By Saturday afternoon, I-75 was no longer closed, with lanes open both northbound and southbound. Traffic was moving — albeit slowly, and officials expected it to stay that way for a while. State police Trooper Lloyd Cochran said he couldn’t give a figure for number of cars or people affected by the standstill but noted that no injuries were reported.
Kate Bragg was one of the stuck motorists, spending most of the night at mile marker 59 between Livingston and Mount Vernon. She and her husband, Alexx, are from Indiana and were on their way to Tennessee for a getaway weekend when they got stuck. For hours, the only people they saw were salt truck drivers begging motorists to move over so they could exit, refuel and hopefully help clear the roads. At one point, Alexx Bragg tucked in behind a salt truck and followed it on the shoulder, only to get stuck again.
“We are worried because we are from Indiana, have no concept of where we are and no idea when to anticipate getting out,” Bragg told The Associated Press in an electronic message using Twitter.
Kentucky officials set up shelters for stranded motorists at churches and public schools along the Interstate, but the Braggs were too far away and could not make it to them.
“Emotional breaking point coupled with exhaustion has been met,” Kate Bragg tweeted just after 11 p.m. after spending about eight hours on the highway, later adding: “Sleeping on the interstate… Don’t they normally caution against this?”
Kate Bragg posted on Twitter that the couple finally got off the interstate at about 2:30 a.m., using online mapping services to find a way around the clogged interstate using side roads that had been plowed.
Traffic was slowly moving slowly Saturday along the 30-mile stretch, from Berea to London, according to Buddy Rogers, spokesman for Kentucky Emergency Management. All local hotels were booked, Cochran said. He described people still stuck on the road, some milling about at exits or leaving their cars to seek out the few stores and restaurants nearby.
About 65 people had taken shelter at the West London Baptist Church Saturday morning, according to Amanda Shotton, disaster program manager for the American Red Cross in Kentucky. She said local grocery stores and restaurants provided food for firefighters to take to stranded motorists who couldn’t reach shelter.
Mariclare Lafferty and her family were on their way home to Hamburg, New York, when they stopped at a hotel in Knoxville to avoid the storm. But they had no heat after their hotel lost power, so they got back on the interstate, only to get stuck for five hours.
“I was very scared, very nervous,” she said. “They don’t plow their roads in Kentucky. We’re from Buffalo, and we’re used to a plow going down the road every 20 minutes. We’re just not used to this here.”
Lafferty said she and her family have been at the West London Baptist Church shelter since about 2 a.m. and plan to stay there for most of the day.
“They’re treating us very well, but we’re very tired,” she said.
This is the second time in less than a year Kentucky drivers have seen major delays because of snow. Last March, thousands of drivers were stuck on I-65 in western Kentucky, some for up to 24 hours, after two feet of snow fell over several days.
The WATE 6 Storm Team said about 17 inches of snow fell in the area Friday and early Saturday.